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During these tough times, it is especially important to celebrate happy occasions.  That is why invitations to celebrate Zoom and occasional in person brisses and baby namings, b’nai mitzvahs and weddings have been so meaningful.

Tomorrow, the Ramah Camping Movement embarks on a week of events which mark two historical events:  Tikvah at 50 and the ADA at 30.   

The Tikvah Program has been including campers with disabilities at Ramah camps since 1970.  We began to celebrate this milestone in 2019 in Jerusalem at the start of our last Ramah Israel Bike Ride and Hike; to kick off the ride and hike, we honored Tikvah’s founders, Herb and Barbara Greenberg.  We had hoped to continue the festivities with an event at Camp Ramah in New England this summer. Instead, we will continue on Zoom tomorrow evening, when we also mark the 30th anniversary of the passage of the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H. W. Bush. It is a civil rights law which prohibits discrimination based on disability. The ADA also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, and imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations. Ironically, religious entities like synagogues are completely exempt from Title III of the ADA. All of their facilities, programs, and activities, whether they are religious or secular in nature, are exempt.

At Ramah, people with disabilities participate in all aspects of camp—camping and vocational training programs, they serve as staff members, and they attend Israel programs.  The impact of Ramah on campers, family members, staff and the entire Ramah community is extraordinary.

Tomorrow night, we kick off our special week with “Jewish Journeys: Tikvah's Role in the Jewish Disability Narrative”—it will focus on the growth and impact of Ramah’s Tikvah programs over the past fifty years, through the lens of Tikvah alumni, parents, staff, and community members.  There is still time to register:

We will also be singing and dancing in celebration of Tikvah, viewing movie clubs and discussing disabilities inclusion, and more.

Keep an eye for special events in celebration of ADA at 30—start your search here, on the ADA Anniversary website!

https://www.adaanniversary.org/

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This has been a very tough five months for lovers of live music, for artists and for anyone connected with the music industry, including roadies, sound and light engineers, ushers, food and merch vendors and anyone who owns a food establishment near a concert venue.   The disappearance of live music happened so abruptly!

The last big concert to take place in NYC before Covid-19 struck was “The Brothers:  Celebrating 50 Years of the Allman Brothers Band” at Madison Square Garden.   Warren Haynes shared the story of the shift from great live music to “limited” music to no music in “The Power of Live” (June 2020) issue of Relix Magazine.

 Two days after the packed MSG show, Haynes, Jackson Browne, Dave Matthews and others played the Love Rocks NYC benefit concert at the Beacon Theater in NYC—before a small audience of family and friends—due to coronavirus concerns.  That was it—no more live music.  So sad. 

I know that feeling of disappointment.  I was supposed to attend some of the much anticipated shows celebrating Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh ‘s 80th birthday at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester March 13 – 15, and I was planning on seeing several Dead and Co shows this summer. 

Admittedly, some musicians have done their best to make their live music available to fans during these tough times.    Each week, fans enjoy Phish’s “Dinner and a Movie,” Weir Wednesdays (Bob Weir and the Wolf Brothers), Dave Matthews Band (also on Wednesdays), Moe, String Cheese Incident, Dead and Co (Saturday nights) and more. There are many free weekly concerts offered online.

And some musicians have gotten very creative—Ben Folds performed each Saturday night for about 13 weeks from a rented apartment in Sydney, Australia.  Holly Bowling has performed The Living Room Sessions regularly, where she plays whole sets of Dead and Phish shows.  And there are others.

Trey Anastasio of Phish was asked if he and his band would consider playing a show on Zoom, where he, Fish, Page and Mike are in separate “squares.”   He dismissed it.  He speaks frequently of just how much the musicians and audience play off of each other.  He even pointed out in the Relix issue and in interviews that he drives his band crazy by never knowing what song he will open with—he waits to “feel” the vibe of the crowd before deciding.

So, what is it about live music that makes it so important—and magical—for fans and performers?  Obviously, on a practical level, performing live is a big part of how musicians and their crews pay the bills. But the live music experience is so much more than a financial transaction between performers and fans.

Most performers love what they do, they give it their all each night, and they play off the electricity of their fans.   This is what keeps musicians like Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Pete Townsend performing in to their 70s and even 80s.

In the aforementioned Relix issue, Don Was, president of Blue Note records, a famed producer and bass player who has played with Bob Weir and Jay Lane in the Wolf Brothers, looks at live music’s draw “in both scientific and mystical terms.”  He notes, “There’s a body of work that establishes how live music creates social bonding and a wave of synchronicity.  There’s a lot of research that indicates we experience greater enjoyment in the presence of live music and by being part of a larger group.  A lot of it just has to do with dancing, which is why it transcends genres…I think any body movement encodes emotional information and, when you experience that with others, there are social consequences.  You establish a rapport, a sense of community—people like each other more, they trust each other more, and they cooperate more.” 

He goes on to say, “There’s something about the presence of the performer in the room that makes a difference.  …it’s a sense that the audience has the ability to influence the performance…. everyone gets swept away, and I see it as a spiraling tornado.”  

I think Don Was hits the nail on the head—and he helps us understand just WHY we are missing live music so much.  It is the shared experience, the all-in-it-together feeling, the job, the swaying and dancing.  We are all missing these experiences of connecting with other music lovers, and with the musicians themselves. 

On one hand, the return to any in person still feels very far off. How will it possible for tens of thousands to pack MSG for a Springsteen concert, or LockN or Coachella for a music festival?  And we know how smaller clubs are suffering—it is nearly impossible to practice social distancing in a small space, and club owners will never make a profit if the venue is not packed.  On the other hand, there are some promising signs ahead. 

Check out the City Winery Outdoor Concert Series an hour north of Manhattan, featuring Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Martin Sexton, Joan Osborne and others. They are following strict safety guidelines:

All guests are required to complete a contactless temperature check and wellness questionnaire prior to entrance, masks or face coverings are required when entering and moving throughout public areas where social distancing is not possible, and seating will be by pods.  [“We are no longer seating unaffiliated parties together.  As such, tickets for this show will be sold for a single pod seating 2, 4, 8 or 10 people- select the appropriate group size for you and your companions.  You're welcome to take off your mask in your pod.”]

And LockN, originally scheduled for June, is still moving ahead in Arrington, VA, from October 2nd-4th.  They will also be following New Safety Policies, including masks, social distancing, cashless transactions, health screenings, and extra handwashing and sanitation stations.

Live music is SO important—for fans and musicians. We tip our hats to the musicians who continue to share live music online for their fans, and to City Winery, LockN and others who are doing the best to safely reunite fans and musicians.

See you at the show!

 




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Usually at this point in the summer, I would be finished running an overnight camp program and would be visiting other camps across the country.  After eating meals, attending activities and otherwise just hanging out with hundreds of campers ages 9-16 and staff ages 18 to their mid-twenties, I would be tuned in to the kinds of things that are on the minds of children of all ages. Usually, camper questions are something like this:


-Did I get any mail?

-Can I borrow your Shabbat dress?

-What is my job on the job wheel? (Yuck, I HATE bathrooms!)

-When is Visitors Day?

-Is there a cookout tonight?

-Do I have to go on the camping trip?

 

Campers are generally so engaged and happy to be with friends that their few questions focus on life beyond camp.  Young counselors are generally in their happy place in camp and also focus mostly on the here and now.


-Where should I go on my day off?

-How do I look in this dress?

-Can I Venmo you?

-Who are you rooming with this semester?

 

This summer, most kids continue to be “stuck” at home.  Some are in day camp programs.  A few are at overnight camps, where their parents are praying no one will get Covid-19.   The questions I am hearing are mostly from bar and bat mitzvah students I continue to see on FaceTime and Zoom. 


Recent questions—all serious and one provocative—include:


 -Can we get a dog?

-Do you think we’ll get in to Hershey Park if we drive all the way down, or will it be closed if it is too full?

-Can we rent an RV to go on vacation?

-Is it ok if we eat pork in front of you? (referring to his upcoming outdoors, socially distanced bar mitzvah) 


To my delight and surprise, I haven’t heard any kids ask, “When will we stop having lessons for the summer?”  I think everyone has lost track of time—and the lessons actually serve as a not so horrible way to spend an hour each week!

 

 

 

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“I went to a bar mitzvah this summer,” said almost nobody.   This has been a very unusual five months for 13 year olds who planned to mark bar or bat mitzvah, for their families, and for their synagogues.  

I have been preparing students for b’nai mitzvah for over 30 years, and on occasion, super extenuating circumstances meant pushing off or moving forward the date of the bar or bat mitzvah.  For example, a very sick relative, a medical need, 9/11.  But that is rare.  Covid-19 had meant hundreds if not thousands of b’nai mitzvahs being postponed or reimagined.

So far, three families I work with have had to put off Israel b’nai mitzvahs.  One Kotel bar mitzvah turned in to a very well attended 120 person all-Zoom bar mitzvah, where the mother, father and bar mitzvah boy sat at the dining room table of their Manhattan apartment, and guests tuned in from their homes all around the world.  The other families have put off Israel for now and have other plans for marking the bar and bat mitzvah in the works.

Another family had planned a Shabbat afternoon bat mitzvah in May.  Instead of being postponed indefinitely, it was simply moved to the following Monday morning, when the same torah portion was read.  It is what I call a “partial Zoom” bat mitzvah.  For the somewhat shy girl, it was the best of all worlds:  Her mother, father, one rabbi, the cantor and I all wore masks in the synagogue chapel, appropriately socially distanced.  A computer sat on a cardboard box on the bima, sharing the simcha on Zoom for all to see.  It was the first time I had worn sort of nice clothes in months!

Several of my tutoring families have changed the date and location several times.  Some held out hope for a socially distanced bat mitzvah at a backyard in the Hamptons, or a bar mitzvah at an indoor restaurant in Manhattan.  But local laws and ordinances for number of guests, indoor vs. outdoor dining, etc. keep changing.  The bat mitzvah is on hold.  The bar mitzvah moved to Connecticut, where rules for dining are different.   Other families have moved their b’nai mitzvah to Western Mass—outdoors, with a homemade siddur and a rented torah.    

The great thing I am seeing is that the students are really good sports.  Their parents are as well.  All may be disappointed; some may be a bit relieved.  Everyone seems to have perspective—this is a happy occasion during a time when so many are experiencing sadness and loss.   It is not the time to travel to Israel but Israel will always be there—maybe next year! 

And I have learned that technology can be a wonderful tool for teaching b’nai mitzvah students.  Facetime has been a wonderful way to have lessons.  Perhaps students in very remote areas can now learn for b’nai mitzvah with experienced teachers, and Zoom may continue to be a useful tool for bringing people together, even when Covid-19 is but a distant memory. 

I look forward to a future generation of perplexed grandchildren, sitting on the laps of grandparents trying to understand just what a “Zoom bar mitzvah” or a “Zoom bat mitzvah” actually was?!  




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